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Elina Svitolina, of Ukraine, reacts after scoring a point against Johanna Konta, of the United Kingdom, during the quarterfinals of the US Open tennis championships Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Elina Svitolina, of Ukraine, reacts after scoring a point against Johanna Konta, of the United Kingdom, during the quarterfinals of the US Open tennis championships Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)|Associated Press
Tennis

U.S. Open women's semifinal No. 1: Abrams picks Serena Williams vs Elina Svitolina

The No. 8 seed plays the No. 5 seed at 7 pm EDT

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

2019 U.S. Open

Flushing Meadows, NY, USA

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Women’s Semis

Elina Svitolina over Serena Williams

Tonight at Arthur Ashe Stadium should be called Super Thursday. Since the USTA changed the scheduling to eliminate Super Saturday, the tournament has missed that penultimate weekend where the women’s finals was sandwiched in between the two men’s semis. It made for the most exciting tennis day of the year, and served as, really, the climax of the tournament. Back when both of the Williams sisters were constantly challenging for Grand Slam titles, the USTA moved the men’s semis to Friday to give them an extra day of rest before the finals, and made the women’s finals a prime time night event. So, what happened? The first year, neither of the Williams sisters made the finals and the entire United States was presented with a women’s final played in prime time between two Russians. Obviously, that was a big bust. But since then, we’ve all become accustomed to the new schedule, and its fairness to the men makes it much better for everyone. It also lets the ladies take the spotlight, and oftentimes, it’s been terrific. But tonight is special, as the two semifinals should both be blockbusters.

Gone are the pretenders, the hurt, the injured, the tired and the weary. We’ve got four of the hottest players on the Tour playing for the right to play for the title, and in this one, I think Elina Svitolina, the 24-year-old darling of The Ukraine (and Gael Monfils) will rain (reign?) on Serena’s parade. As always, Serena received a cake draw. Looking back at Wimbledon, where Serena’s draw was the easiest of any finalist, man or woman, since the Open era began in 1968 (the average ranking of her opponents was over 74), it wasn’t surprising that she dropped the finals to Simona Halep. Halep is a Top 10 player, and Serena had never been tested. I see a bit more of the same here. Williams destroyed Qiang Wang of China, the highest ranked opponent she has faced in this tournament, at #18, in the quarters. Prior to that, Williams took out Petra Martic (#22), Karolina Muchova (#44), 17-year-old Caty McNally (#117), and Maria Sharapova (#87). I’d have to take McNally out of the tally, because she’s not old enough to play the tournaments needed to get a ranking that shows her skill. So, her opponents’ average ranking here in The City was a bit over 42. Not so tough for a Grand Slam tournament, yet miles more difficult than her Wimbledon draw.

Svitolina, on the other hand, has handled Johanna Konta (#16), Maddy Keys (#10), Dayna Yastremska (#32), Venus Williams (#52), and teenager Whitney Osuigwe (#492). Since Osuigwe is 17 and can’t play enough to get a real ranking, I’d take her out of a computation of the average ranking of opponents since, to include her would unfairly skew the result. Svitolina’s opponents had an average ranking of #27, which is pretty average for a semi-finalist, but at least the played one opponent who was in the Top 10 and another in the Top 20.

More importantly, Svitolina has been playing good tennis, mixing up her solid groundies with great movement, pretty good serves, and timely volleys when needed. She’s confident, strong, and has a great team behind her. Maybe most importantly, she’s happy. She’s got her beau, Gael Monfils, in her corner, and this means a lot to a young woman traveling the world without her family. Serena, on the other hand, is aging, slowing, and at the end of the back nine. She’s heavier and slower than she ever was. She’s constantly dealing with what comes with aging: injuries. Whether it’s her knees, her back, her ankles or whatever, Serena is just another terrific athlete getting old. Time robs all players of reaction time, sight, and health, and Serena is no exception. She misses groundies if engaged in long rallies, she’s a step, maybe a step-and-a half late when prowling the baseline, she can no longer move backwards (to cover lobs), she can’t change direction at all, and I question her fitness level in a long match. But Serena still has that powerful serve, which is the single biggest weapon on the women’s Tour, even now.

With that said, I like the youngster. Svitolina is a great player and has an engaging personality. She will become a fan favorite in the United States, she’ll be gracious and happy, and she will show us how the game should be played.

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